County approves solar farm expansion

People love the idea of solar farms, but what if they're right out the front door? From the Alamosa Valley Courier.

A schematic provided by Alamosa County shows the existing solar farm near Mosca in orange, with the proposed expansion to the south in gray. The red arrow points to Ron Stoeber’s home, which he says has lost value due to the proximity of the panels.

A permit granted by Alamosa County Commissioners to expand a solar farm near Mosca is bad news for one neighbor.

Iberdrola Energy, a Spanish company that owns and operates a 320-acre solar farm three miles west of Highway 17, got final approval yesterday from Alamosa County Commissioners to add 577 acres to the farm, which if built would bring the project's generating capacity from 30 megawatts to 80.

Ron Stoeber, who owns an old farmhouse immediately adjacent to the existing farm, says the panel array has depreciated his property value and torpedoed his equity, and that the expansion will only make the problem worse.

"They say home ownership is a good thing, but I wish I didn't own this one," Stoeber said at Wednesday's County Commissioners meeting. "Yes, it's a solar neighborhood, but when I bought the place 25 years ago, it wasn't. If I had a crystal ball back then that said in 2015 they'll build all around you, it might have been different."

According to Alamosa County property records, Stoeber bought the four-bedroom house in 1995 for $50,000. Its assessed value is $119,562.

Stoeber said he wants to sell the place.

"Everybody loves green energy, until it's in your backyard," said Stoeber. "We're stuck in a bad situation. Everybody knows the value of our land will be hardly anything. It's just a fact."

Iberdrola has offered to pay Stoeber the difference between whatever the house ends up selling for and what it was worth before the installation of the solar farm, but it needs hard data first, said Brian Walsh, a project developer for the company.

Walsh said the Stoebers told him they have had two appraisals done on the property, one before the solar project and one after, that showed the property's value had depreciated by 30 percent.

"The Stoebers did provide one of those appraisals, which was from after the project was operational, so I didn't have anything to compare it to," said Walsh. "I'll stand by my statement that we'll work with the Stoebers to keep them financially whole for any loss directly attributed to our facilities. If they did provide credible information that our facilities did degrade their property values, then I'd be happy to work with them."

Stoeber is concerned that even with additional documentation, Iberdrola has no incentive to honor their word to make up the difference now that the permit has been granted.

"As far as Iberdrola helping us financially or backing us up, it's all verbal. I haven't seen anything written down," said Stoeber. "Here's my problem: Why would Iberdrola go out of their way to make me financially whole if the permit is given? They have no reason to other than maybe ethics."

Walsh said Iberdrola is a morally and ethically responsible company, and has been a good neighbor.

"We've been contributing to the Community Development Fund," said Walsh. "We recently transferred water rights to adjacent property owners to bolster their agricultural practices. We also decommissioned six wells on our San Luis site that added more water to the water table. We work with the communities we operate in."

The situation may not be that dire, said Alamosa County Deputy Land Use Administrator Rachel Baird.

"These panels are seven feet tall," Baird said. "When you think about seven feet tall in the context of the Valley floor, it's not that much of a visual impact. They could probably sell the house. It's a nice property."

Baird said that development is inevitable, and rural property owners have little control if development is properly permitted.

"Everybody is pro-development until it's in their backyard," Baird said. "Everybody is pro-renewable energy, but people don't want to look at it out their window."

Baird said she is sympathetic to the Stoebers' situation, and has gone so far as to send them certified letters to inform them of meetings and hearings regarding the solar farm expansion. Still, she says, their request for remuneration of the allegedly depreciated value of their home sets a bad precedent.

"One of our primary goals in the Valley is to increase jobs and build businesses," said Baird. "It's hard to do that if you have to make concessions like that for every business. It's dangerous to say that to build where you're zoned, you have to make it up to your neighbors."